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Little Shop of Horrors
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Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors is a stage musical, and later a 1986 cult film adaptation, both based on a 1960 horror film of the same title produced by Roger Corman.

The plot is similar in all three versions. Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of a young florist named Seymour who one day comes across a mysterious plant. Its interests are revealed to be in serious conflict with the interests of the humans around it.

Plot Summary

Warning: Plot details follow.

Unbeknownst to Seymour, the plant is actually an alien creature from outer space. Seymour names the plant Audrey II after his secret love. The plant begins to grow, and attracts lots of customers to Seymour's shop. Unfortunately, the plant has an odd quirk: it feasts on human blood.

In order to maintain his shop's popularity and win the affections of Audrey, Seymour is forced to secretly kill people and feed them to the increasingly large and cruel Audrey II.

Although Corman has described his original film as humorous, it was more in the traditional horror genre than its successsors. In the musical version, the storyline is lighthearted and silly, despite some gruesome scenes. The action is punctuated by several songs, most of which have a rock and roll or Motown feel.

In both the stage and film productions, Audrey II comes to life through the work of puppeteers. The film version of the plant was an extremely elaborate creation, and during Audrey II's final stage of growth, had to be operated by over 60 people.

The main difference between the stage and 1986 film versions of Little Shop of Horrors is the endings. The stage version, like the 1960 film, has a sad ending in which Audrey II goes on a rampage and kills everyone, including Seymour and Audrey. This ending was originally filmed for the screen adaptation, but preview audiences found it too depressing, so a new happy ending was created in which Audrey II is killed, while Seymour, Audrey, and humanity survive.

The 1986 movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song for the song, Mean Green Mother from Outer Space. It features Rick Moranis as Seymour, Ellen Greene as Audrey, Steve Martin as a sadistic dentist, and Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops as the voice of Audrey II.

The 1960 version featured a young Jack Nicholson in a small role as one of the dentist's patients.

The show is also currently running on Broadway and has released a new cast album. The album stars Hunter Foster as Seymour, and Kerry Butler as Audrey.

As of June 2004, Joey Fatone (of the boy band *NSYNC) is starring as Seymour, with Jessica-Snow Wilson as Audrey.

Themes and motifs in Little Shop of Horrors

Predation

Most of the characters are predators. The plant preys on humans. But this reflects the other relationships going on around the plant. The dentist preys (brutally) on his girlfriend (and others), the shopkeeper on Seymour, Seymour on anybody who can feed the plant. The story is set in a flower shop on Skid Row, a location where every human is either predator or prey.

Morality play

Seymour demonstrates a gradual slide into evil. At the beginning of the story he is innocent and interested in the plant because it is unique. When Audrey II demands food, Seymour first feeds her his own blood. It's only a prick, and it's a good cause. His escalation to feeding other humans to Audrey II happens one step at a time, The first victim is already dead. Seymour rationalizes that he was a bad man, so there is nothing wrong with using his death to the plant's good. With the second victim, Seymour knows he is tricking his mentor to his death. The third death is justified not to help the plant, but to help Seymour's fortunes. Seymour accepts evil one step at a time. In this slide into evil, Audrey II is a tempter. Finally, Seymour unsuccessfully attempts to correct his actions. Seymour is an example of an anti-hero (a character type that was not known to traditional morality plays).

Looking at the story from a different literary light, the plant is a more literal Devil. Little Shop of Horrors is essentially the plot of Faust, reworked into modern times in a flowershop. Seymour seals his deal with the plant in blood. He hopes to gain from the plant the Devil's traditional payments to Faust: fame, fortune, and a girlfriend. In the end, Seymour is completely destroyed by the plant.

In Faust, Faust initiates his deal with the Devil in full knowledge of what he is doing. Seymour, in contrast, does not understand what is happening until he is deep into a relationship with the plant. Like Faust, Seymour comes to recognize how he has become evil, attempts to correct his sins, but fails to do so and is claimed by his devil.

As in some versions of Faust, the love interest is caught up in the destruction, but remains innocent.

Seymour's story is also a tragedy in the ancient Greek sense. Seymour starts out intending good, but comes to a bad end due to his own character flaws. Once the action is set into motion by the discovery of the plant, it moves unstoppably towards the protagonist's destruction.

Black comedy

The work makes fun of violence, sadism, masochism, and humans as plant food. In all but the second movie version, the plant succeeds in the end, spreading across the world as a successful predator on humans. This ending is characteristic of black comedy: it is the logical outcome of the events that in more traditional art would be unsettling, but in this work are the source of humor.

Genre Parody

Little Shop of Horrors uses the vocabulary of the horror genre, but in self-referencing and mocking ways. The plant is a monster that feeds on humans, but enlists Seymour's aid in obtaining victims. Seymour describes his debt to his mentor, but pairs each example with an example of how the florist also abuses him.

Corman (also in many of his other works) used the horror genre to make a work that consciously sets itself apart from that genre. This is made more explicit in the musical version. A chorus in the musical functions much as a classic Greek chorus, offering meta-commentary about the story. Many of these comments specifically poke fun at the horror themes.

Musical Numbers

See also: carnivorous plants